Actors bring Skyline students’ short stories to the stage
Excitement was in the air as 300 young playwrights filed into the auditorium at Skyline Elementary School in Solana Beach last week for an assembly to celebrate writing.
Students in each of the school’s 20 classes wrote short stories, about 80 or 90 of which were submitted months ago to a group based in Villa Park, called The Imagination Machine.
Nine stories at Skyline were eventually selected to be performed by The Imagination Machine, bringing the written word to life, to the delight of the children.
“We are performing stories we found right here at Skyline Elementary,” said one enthusiastic performer, introducing the group.
The Imagination Machine is a school assembly program that celebrates students’ efforts in writing through live performances of their short stories.
“Nothing inspires your students to write like watching their own words spring onto the stage, fully fleshed out in a complete production with professional actors, music, props and costumes,” reads the group’s website.
With a piano player to accompany them, three actors wearing paint-splattered overalls took the stage at Skyline. Donning hats and wigs of various shapes, sizes and colors, the actors combined the students’ writing with a healthy dose of improvisation, inducing laughter, cheers and spirited applause.
At two separate assemblies, the actors performed stories written by the following Skyline students, who did not know until the assembly that their stories had been selected: Cole Colleran, Garrett Dahl, Sawyer Lebert, Bailey Lind, Andrew McMullen, Carter Reeves, Julian Rosas, Jaycie Roshala and Nikolas Traubman. The playwrights ranged in grade level from kindergarten to sixth.
Skyline principal Lisa Denham said the program was part of a two-year effort to advance writing.
“We have partnered with Columbia University, Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and have had a consultant come from New York to provide 10 days of staff development,” Denham said. “As a result of this focus, student writing has improved tremendously, and we decided to celebrate student writing during our Literacy Week, June 7 to 11.”
In the second assembly, five student plays were performed. “The Hungry Lizard” told the story of a lizard that ate a cricket. “Mr. Banana” was a monkey who warned skeptical neighbors (all animals) of an impending monsoon. “Cake” was a tale of a boy who ate the cake his mother had prepared for a carnival, under the inattentive eye of a father charged with protecting the chocolate concoction. “The Matterhorn” offered a glimpse of a boy scared of the rides at Disneyland. “The Mean Witch” told of a beautiful vegetarian princess placed under a spell by a meat-eating witch.
The improv and comedic actions of the performers got the giggles flowing and the students’ attention riveted. Each play lasted about five or six minutes, and actors worked with minimal props and a simple background for a setting.
Denham said the cost for The Imagination Machine assemblies — between $600 and $700 — was paid by funds from her school’s PTA and private donations. No district money was expended, she said.
All submitted plays are read carefully by The Imagination Machine actors before final selections are made. The final plays are chosen, one actor explained, using a number of criteria. Because the number of performers is limited to three actors, stories with three or fewer characters are preferable, rather than stories with many characters. The group tries to select one or two stories from each grade level. Themes of good and evil, and a story with a positive resolution, are also preferred, he said.
The Imagination Machine was founded in 1981 in the city of Orange by Deborah Wren, a musical theater and improv actress. After the concept came to her, she approached friends who helped her expand the idea until the group had bookings at a few local schools.
Today, The Imagination Machine consists of three different companies of actors who perform at almost 400 schools annually, in Orange County, Riverside County, and parts of San Diego and San Bernardino Counties.
One of six schools in the Solana Beach School District, Skyline educates about 500 students, with 190 students in a kindergarten through sixth-grade Global Education program and regular classes for about 310 students in grades 4 through 6.
At the conclusion of the assembly, actors recognized the young writers whose stories were chosen by bringing each of them on stage and presenting them with a Certificate of Writing Achievement. To encourage writing, performers advised their audience to “keep on reading and keep on writing” and experience “the adventures and magic that writing sets free.”
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